The Utah Farm Bureau Federation has released its list of ‘Issues to Watch For in 2019’ as it implements its policy priorities during the 2019 Utah general legislative session.
Though not exhaustive in scope, this list is based off the UFBF policy book, adopted at its recent convention in November. The policy book will guide the general farm and ranch organization’s public policy actions throughout this year – including the upcoming legislative session.
“It is important to know the policies we fight for come from the grassroots level, from actual farmers and ranchers on the ground and in the trenches – not simply from the ideas of one leader or board,” said Ron Gibson, a dairy farmer from Weber County and President of the Utah Farm Bureau Federation. “These policies come to us through debate and deliberation on issues felt on the farms of the smallest towns as well as in the families of the largest cities in Utah. These issues have a direct impact on our ability to grow and enjoy food in Utah.”
1. Right-to-farm Laws
Most states in the U.S. have what are known as “Right-to-Farm” laws, which are used to help farmers and ranchers continue the challenging work of growing crops and raising animals, while providing some protections from frivolous lawsuits. In recent years, some have quickly turned to lawsuits to settle realities of production agriculture. Despite claiming lawsuits won’t harm small farmers because they are directed at corporate agriculture ownership, the reality is frivolous lawsuits impactall farmers and ranchers because of the operational relationship between corporate ownership and small family farms.
Utah’s existing ‘right-to-farm’ laws reflect veterinary-approved and socially-accepted practices, and yet recent reviews indicate needs to strengthen certain areas. Many protections under the current law only apply in agricultural protection areas, but those are mostly used in urban areas – leaving many farmers and ranchers in rural areas without the protections of the current law.
2. Private Property Rights
With the amount of public land in Utah, private property is a premium. As Utah’s population continues to grow, farmers and ranchers are increasingly dealing with the issue of urban encroachment – especially in urban areas.
In a growing economy, UFBF wants to make sure aggressive economic growth policies are not promoted at the expense of private property rights. Utah Farm Bureau wants to preserve and strengthen the principle of ‘willing buyer-willing seller’ and check abuses of eminent domain authority.
3. Sales Tax Reform
Recent legislative discussions have led to proposals and budget recommendations that directly impact Utah production agriculture and rural Utah. Utah Farm Bureau believes sound tax policy is best represented by fair sales, property, and income taxes. Legislative proposals to change this balance should not negatively impact Utah agriculture.
Over the years since the Utah’s tax code was developed, the state’s economy has change from a primarily goods-based economy, to that of services. Many of these services are not currently subject to sales taxes. This sets Utah up to be unbalanced in how it collects revenues. UFBF believes in the principle of expanding the base and lowering the rate in terms of tax policy. However, in an attempt to tax services – which are most commonly used in urban areas – what kind of impact can this have on Utah’s rural communities? How will rural cities and counties make up the revenue when sources of previously relied sources upon have changed?
There are more than 190 examples of sales tax exemptions on the books, 35 of these exemptions are agriculture related. Utah Farm Bureau supports a healthy tax reform debate and implementation but wants to ensure Utah farmers and ranchers are properly and adequately represented. Certain exemptions are appropriate to ensure sustainability of agriculture.
4. Water Issues
With three million new residents expected to come to Utah, and with the federal government increasingly bowing out from funding major water development projects, Utah taxpayers will have to meet the growing water infrastructure needs. This includes big ticket items like the Lake Powell pipeline, as well as the day-to-day maintenance and construction of new and existing water infrastructure. This is often ‘out-of-sight, out-of-mind’ for most residents.
The increased demand of water will need to be met by residential, agricultural, and industrial users. This growth will be met by 1. conserving existing water supplies, 2. implementing water efficiencies – agricultural users moving from flood to sprinkler irrigation, and 3. continued water development.
Additional issues include Greenbelt laws, transportation funding, water and air quality, and state wildfire prevention.
1. Wildfires & Land Management
An emphasis on fire suppression, reductions in commercial timber harvest and thinning, additional permitting regulations and livestock grazing restrictions are preventing public and private forest land managers from making much-needed, significant improvements in forests. These policies increase the fire hazard and make it much more difficult to combat catastrophic wildfires, protect lives and property, safeguard water supplies and prevent the destruction of farming and grazing lands. They also threaten jobs and payrolls in rural counties in the west.
Forest management and environmental protection are goals that can be accomplished simultaneously through targeted, active forest management practices, we offer the following recommendations for the federal and state land managers to consider:
Strengthen milling infrastructure by lengthening timber contracts to 20 years and establishing higher minimum annual permitted harvest board-feet levels.
Improve intergovernmental coordination at the federal, state and local levels – including between federal and local wildland firefighters.
Expand categorical exclusion eligibilities for both timber harvesting and grazing for fire rehabilitation, timber salvage and thinning, and to treat insects and diseases, among other things.
Prioritizing grazing as effective for fuel load reduction
Utah farmers and ranchers favor negotiations to resolve trade disputes, rather than the use of tariffs or withdrawal from agreements. They also support the United States’ entry into the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership.
In September, Canada joined the U.S. and Mexico in the successor to NAFTA, the U.S.- Mexico -Canada Agreement (USMCA). The USMCA not only locks in market opportunities previously developed, but also builds on those trade relationships in several key areas. This was a hard-fought win and we commend the administration for all the efforts to solidify the trading relationships we have with our North American neighbors.
In relation to trade with China, a U.S. delegation went to China to negotiate recently. There have been no formal announcements yet from the administration, and talks are continuing. Ag exports to China were down by $2 billion in 2018, and USDA forecasts exports to decline by an additional $7 billion in 2019. The biggest concern related to trade with China is that many countries grow soybeans and corn, and now there’s room in China’s markets for these commodities. The U.S. could lose the market even if the tariffs eventually go away.
3. Clean Water, Clear Rules
Farmers and ranchers value clean water. Every day they are working to leave the land, air and water in better condition for their families, neighbors and future generations. Modern farming practices give farmers the tools they need to keep water safe for their farms, families and communities. Unfortunately, federal agencies have muddied the waters with overreaching regulations that are more about controlling land than protecting water.
It’s time for clear rules that protect farmers’ ability to produce food, fiber and fuel for our nation, while enhancing the natural resources we all depend on. The proposed new clean water rule seeks to clarify which waters are subject to protection. In particular, it preserves state authority over many land features that only carry water when it rains. Farmers and ranchers should be able to look at the land and know what is and is not federally regulated under the Clean Water Act.
4. Immigration Reform
Farmers and ranchers need a reliable, skilled workforce. Farm work is challenging, often seasonal and transitory, and it’s not easy to find American workers to take on these jobs. Farm labor can’t all be replaced by machines either. There are certain farm jobs, like tending livestock and pruning or picking fresh produce, which require a human touch. Where American workers are unwilling or unavailable, workers from other countries have stepped in.
Congress needs to pass responsible immigration reform that addresses agriculture’s current experienced workforce and creates a new flexible guest worker program. Instability in the agricultural workforce places our food supply at risk–increasing immigration enforcement without also reforming our worker visa program will cost America $60 billion in agricultural production.